Caj Chai in Barcelona

Teascopia

By recommendation of two local friends last week I visited a charming teahouse and shop called Caj Chai in the Barri Gotic in Barcelona. It is located in Calle Sant Domènec del Call, a hidden spot perhaps if you are just wandering around.

It is a nice place with an extensive selection of teas to try and discover. We ordered a cold matcha with soy milk and a Chinese Huang Zhi Xiang Dan Cong oolong; a very special oolong. It was the first time I tried a Dan Cong. I had read many things about it and it is fascinating. I also found two blogs with specific information about this tea that I recommend reading and that I will copy below. But, in a nutshell, one of the features that makes Dang Cong Oolongs so special is that they don’t come from tea gardens but from “wild trees” or independent bushes that are controlled according to the age of the tree and its fragrance among other many things, so its production requires lots of knowledge and expertise. My personal experience with the Huang Zhi Xiang was exquisite. It was very fresh and flowery but also with a sort of rough taste and roasted notes. This one was Orange flower (Azahar) and it was absolutely beautiful in taste, texture and aroma.

IMG_6206The store also specialises in teaware. From single gaiwans to Japanese and Chinese teapots, cups and bowls you can find sets and individual pieces, some of them handmade by Petr Novak, an amazing potter from Czech Republic. The gaiwain in which my oolong was served was made of clay and it was accompanied of a thermal jug on the side with hot water for me to pour it. I appreciated the fact that the tea was served in an appropriate teaware according to the type of tea, something that makes the whole experience even more special.

The staff is also friendly and helpful, willing to provide more information about the teas. They also offer tasting events on a regular basis that are open to the public.

We sat at the end of the store and spent a lovely afternoon sipping tea and enjoying each other’s company. I am willing to come back soon and take some teas with me.

Caj Chai is a must for tea lovers and enthusiasts or for anyone open to spend an afternoon drinking high-end teas from around the world in the heart of Barcelona’s historic city centre.

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If you would like to read more about Dang Congs, here are the two blogs I mentioned above:

http://hojotea.com/item_e/phoenix_e.htm

http://tea-obsession.blogspot.com.es/2008/01/get-to-know-phoenix-dan-cong-3-naming.html

Enjoy!

 

Tea and cake # 3

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks’ windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on color and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea”.

 “Remembrance of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time”. Marcel Proust

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It is almost impossible to talk about madeleines and tea without recalling the famous passage of Swann’s Way in Proust’s novel Remembrance of Things Past and thinking about the power of tea to evoke memories from the past.

Many things have being said and studied from this passage, about memory and its triggers, but this time I would just like to add it as the third element of this “tea and cake” edition. So we have a whole wheat magdalena (a Spanish version), an English Earl Grey tea and one of the finest and timeless passages of the world’s literature history to accompany it. The result is a exquisite blend of the subtle vanilla taste of the muffin with the citrusy and aromatic taste of the Earl Grey’s bergamot -as if the muffin had lemon and orange zest in it- and an inspiring reading to bring back memories…or to just enjoy the present.

I think is a classic combination that cannot fail…

To Proust, to the present, to tea!

Enjoy!

Chanoyu in New York

P1000398In January I went to New York for a few days to run some errands for my family and I took the opportunity to also do some tea related stops for myself. While planning my itinerary, I found a Japanese Tea Ceremony that I had been looking forward to doing again for a long time. The first time I joined a traditional Japanese tea ceremony was in Argentina when I was studying to be a Tea Sommelier and I instantly fell in love with it. I learnt to appreciate Japanese Tea in a different and much more special way… It also made me look for places that hold the traditional ceremony everywhere I go.

So in New York I found Globus Washitsu, a unique space that offers classes and demonstrations of the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony right in the heart of the city. It is hosted by Tea Whisk and its Japanese Tea Master Souheki Mori.

The Chashitsu (Teahouse) at Globus Washitsu was built as a traditional teahouse from Japan and the whole place feels like a little piece of Japan in New York. Even before entering the teahouse you can hear the sound of the water falling, walk through a path of stones and the re-creation of nature, as it traditionally is. So everything was in place to create the right atmosphere to be immersed in the ceremony. I joined the tea service with two students and there we were, the four of us, ready to forget about the outside world and enjoy “the way of tea”.

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We took our shoes off, left our belongings behind and entered the teahouse. We sat on the tatami, on our heels and few minutes later, everything began.  Souheki brought the equipment and the tea, walking in the traditional way, wearing a kimono and moving graciously and as effectively as possible making everything look seamless and effortless. She sat and started preparing the tea. In this occasion I was chosen as the “guest” during the ceremony so I sat next to her. I also got my tea handed first and even received an extra wagashi (sweet). In the pictures you will see the delicacy of the sweets we had. They were handmade by a Japanese baker and brought directly from Japan. On this occasion we had the Mount Fuji and the rising sun to accompany our tea. Both sugary and delicate, perfect to accompany the matcha tea.

Souheki then talked us through the tokonoma, the tapestry and the ikebana she had chosen specially for the beginning of the year and the ceremony. She also read a poem that was a palindrome, about the first dreams of the year and its meaning in the Japanese culture.

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As soon as everything started my perception of time changed completely and our surrounding and objects took on a different meaning. In a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, everything is there for a reason, has a story or a meaning, nothing is just decoration. You are also there with a purpose, the purpose of contemplation, meditation and tea. You experience that feeling of absolute presence that is so difficult to find and to make it last… I was there, just there. Enjoying the endlessness of time…

The whole experience of being there was special. Globus Washitsu is a real meeting point for people interested or working in the promotion of Japanese culture in every way. I was there sharing my love for tea but surely there is space for everyone. At the end of the ceremony I met Stephen Globus, one of the owners of Globus Washitsu who warmly welcomed me.

I would sincerely like to thank Souheki Mori and Stephen Globus for a lovely afternoon…

I will be back again next year, no doubt!

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For more information:

889 Broadway, NY 10003

Between 19th and 20th Street.

By appointment only.

http://nycwashitsu.com/home.html

http://www.tea-whisk.com/Tea-Whisk/Welcome.html

Tea and cake #2

So far this is one of the best muffins I have ever tried. I bought it to have with my tea at home (at the time I was at my Mum’s house in Miami) and, after taking the first bite, divided it into four pieces so that my dad, mum and husband could also try it. This is a Matcha Green Tea gluten-free muffin by Kyotofu -a Brooklyn based bakery in NY- and it is a real treat! The Matcha tea is so well blended and the texture is so soft and moist that I regret I didn’t buy more than just one. To accompany it I made a Japanese green tea called Kukicha and the combination was just superb!

Kukicha is a tea that I discovered quite recently and that I am growing to love. It has the beautiful and grassy taste of Japanese green teas and that soothing, relaxing, almost zen-like effect that I love. Soon I will write a post exclusively about the Kukicha tea, as I find it fascinating. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the pictures I took for this “Tea and cake #2″ edition!

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Lung Ching or Dragon Well

_MG_0972This is a tea that occupies an important place in the list of any conoisseur and people who love Chinese green teas. The Lung Ching or Dragon Well, in the words of Michael Harney, “is to Chinese green teas what French Champagne is to sparkling white wines: the standard against which all others are measured”.

The Lung Ching became popular during the Qing Dynasty and its name refers to a hill outside Hangzhou in the Zheijang Province where the tea was originally grown.

For me, one of the most beautiful things about this tea is its shape. It resembles dry seaweed or paper. The tea leaves are not rolled but flattened to give the unique shape. It is very versatile and easy to drink all day long, with food or without it. I personally like to drink it on its own as I love its taste and to get into its full flavours and aromas.

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The colour of the liquor is pale yellow but don’t be fooled by it as it is very rich in flavours. You will find notes of roasted green vegetables, the subtle sweetness of the Chinese green teas as well as a nice aftertaste.

If you want try a “classic” Chinese green tea, do not miss this one. I would recommend to drink it on its own whenever you have a bit of spare time to have a break in your day. This makes it an ideal tea for the weekends when you can prepare a teapot, brew your leaves several times and have an exquisite time off!

Enjoy!

Petersham Nurseries

P1080875Before travelling to Miami for Christmas I went to one of my favorite places in London. It is a lushious and beautiful garden place in the heart of the green Borough of Richmond where I live. It is called Petersham Nurseries and it is the home of a wide variety of plants and seeds as well as a restaurant and tea house. This is my secret sanctuary where I would always go to escape from the city, to find inspiration and to be surrounded by nature.

This time I went with my uncle and my aunt for lunch. We had an early lunch at the café/teahouse where you can choose from a selection of salads, main courses and soups and also have coffee or tea and cakes. As a main course I had the chickpeas curry with saffron rice and I chose a smokey Lapsang Souchong to accompany my food. It was a cold day and I was looking forward to having a nice lunch with a tea to warm me up. It worked beautifully!

The tea was served in a white ceramic teapot with the loose leafs inside and a strainer. We know strainers usually work for the first cup only, as the tea continues to brew in the water, resulting in an over-brewed and bitter tea but this is still a strong tradition in many places that I think would be very hard to change.

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Of course I wish my tea would have been served with an infuser instead of a strainer -so I could have more time to enjoy it and prepare it according to my personal requirements- but honestly, there is no point of making a fuss about this as the whole experience at this place is always so wonderful and relaxing. The Lapsang Souchoung was spot on with my food and everything was delicious. We stayed there chatting and enjoying our time together. It was the perfect Sunday!

As I said before, this is a very special place for me so, if you are around, do not miss it. It is such a refreshing walk from Richmond station, a must if you like to be surrounded by nature, if you love the country-side feeling and want to feel alive.

Here is my personal route to get there: from Richmond Station walk towards the Town Centre until you get to Waterlane. Go down towards the Thames and keep walking all the time through the river walk path until you get to the Petersham Meadows. Keep walking straight through the meadows and you will get to a narrow green path. Then turn to your right where you will see a car park and the entrance with their black board welcome.

I really hope you enjoy this place as much as I do!

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